Saturday, March 3, 2001

First Communion Sunday

          "There's Mrs. Digby,"  Carolyn Watts said to her husband.  

          He looked up and saw the Widow Digby climbing  the church steps ahead of them.

          "I swear," Carolyn whispered, "she's a saint, if anyone ever was one!"

          The Widow Digby smiled to herself and entered the church.  She pretended not to have heard, but exalted (although humbly--ever humbly!) in the sainted image she must have projected.  

          It was good that she heard only Carolyn's remark, and not Dean Watts' response.  "Saint?" he said.  "Funny, I would have said more 'religious fruitcake'!"

          "Shh!" Carolyn said.  "How can you say that?  She virtually raised those five kids 

herself.  Jake Digby was drunk more times than he was sober!"

          "Maybe she drove him to the bottle," Dean said.  "She spent half their married life on  her knees!  Well," he said upon reflection, "I guess she spent a few times in bed, but anyway, maybe it's tough living with a saint.  Maybe that's why he drank.  Who knows?"

       "Dean!"  Carolyn said, slapping him lightly on the arm.  "Stop it!  The poor woman!  You have no cause to say that.  Today her last child, Malachy, makes his First Communion.  She has done a wonderful job with those children."


          Mrs. Digby genuflected beside the front pew, then knelt, knees flat down  on the tiles of the aisle floor, and with exaggerated movement of her right arm, crossed herself, head bowed low.  She arose and sat in the pew, at the very end, closest to the center aisle.

          Sunlight through the stained-glass windows made wavy red and blue patterns on the pews.  Somewhere outdoors, a bird twittered.  One of God's own creatures, thought this pious woman.  Contentedly, she looked up at the altar.  

          "O Lord," she said to herself, "How I love this house wherein Thou dwellest!  The tenting-place of Thy glory!"  Surely He was smiling down upon her today.

          A sudden jab at her elbow broke into her reverie.  Looking up, she saw Mrs. Harrington .  "Late again!"  Mrs. Digby muttered.

          "Please move in," Mrs. Harrington said.  "I believe there's room in this pew for one more."

          Mrs. Digby set her lips.  She has no one in the First Communion Class, she thought.  What right does she have to take up space belonging to us proud parents?  Just because she lives in that big house on the hill!  Lords it over us!  Who does she think she is, anyway?

          Mrs. Harrington pressed against Mrs. Digby's kneeling form.  "Please move in," she said again.

          Mrs. Digby shook her head.  "I want the aisle seat," she said.  "I came on time so that I would get it.  You're welcome to climb over me and sit on the other side of me."

          "Surely you don't expect me, elderly as I am, to have to lift my poor legs to climb past you," Mrs. Harrington said.  "Move over, for the love of heaven, and let me sit at the end of the pew!"


          Mrs. Harrington, her great chest heaving, tried to nudge Mrs. Digby to make room for her, but Mrs. Digby grasped the side of the pew and held fast.  "Climb over!"  she said.

          "Move!"  said Mrs. Harrington.

          "Lord have mercy," sang Father Brady from the altar.

          "Climb over!" said the Widow Digby.


          "Christ have mercy," responded the choir.

          Sister Mary Aloysius, with clicker in hand, signaled two times.  The double-click was the cue for the Communion Class to rise and proceed in procession to the altar rail.  Their big moment was approaching.  The Mass was nearing the Consecration, and the First Communicants were to receive the Host before the rest of the congregation.

          "I tell you, I want a good view of my Malachy!" said the widow, holding her ground.

          "And I tell you, I want to kneel down and properly attend Mass!" said Mrs. Harrington, trying to wedge in anew.

          One of the ushers came over to them then.  "Ladies, ladies," he whispered.  "Please, Mrs. Digby, let Mrs. Harrington be seated."

          "No!  Unlike someone whose name I won't mention, I was on time for Mass!  I have a right to the aisle seat to see my Malachy receive his First Communion!"

          With a sigh, the usher led Mrs. Harrington to another pew, where room was made for her.

          "Glory to God in the highest," sang the priest from the altar, raising his arms to heaven.

          "And on earth, peace to men of good will," sang the choir.

The Widow Digby bowed her head and closed her eyes in fervent devotion, and stifled a triumphant smile.